This is a book for anyone who understands the basics of the game but wants to go deeper. The author, Pat Kirwan, has plenty of football experience at all levels of the game. In the NFL he was a scout for the Buccaneers and Cardinals before spending eight years with the Jets, where he ended up as director of player administration. Since then he’s become a media figure and analyst. In short, there are few better figures to guide you into the depths of the NFL.
Kirwan begins with an introduction to game charting, the process of noting on paper what’s happening on the field: what personnel is the offense in? what’s the formation? the down and distance? is it a run or a pass? and so on. That’s crucial to understanding the game better and the book’s appendices include sample forms so that you can chart games yourself. Give it a try – it really helps you understand how a game is flowing and spot the real turning points.
From there, we get a closer look at each of the position groupings – examining what they’re doing beyond what shows up on the highlight reel – and at the to-and-fro between opposing coaches. Then there are sections on how the front office operates and the scouting process that leads to the draft. Whatever your level of knowledge of the game you will learn plenty from these chapters.
Throughout, the points are illustrated with clear examples, mostly taken from games in the mid-2010s. These help explain how teams have succeeded or failed the particular challenges that Kirwan is highlighting. There are also frequent Q&A boxes where Kirwan answers a specific question.
There are lots of simple little tricks too, such as this one: “If you can’t tell while the players are lined up [whether the play will be a run or a pass], watch the height of the linemen’s helmets after the snap. If the helmets are raising upwards, it’s probably a pass – or a draw, which depends on selling the threat of a pass.”
The remainder of the book looks at issues such as pain management – taking in the ongoing concussion concerns – and the ever-evolving rulebook, as well as a quick overview of advanced stats and a round-up of insider terminology. There are deeper reads on most of these topics available elsewhere but these chapters serve as a great introduction.
Even if the only thing you take away from this book is a better awareness of offensive sets and defensive fronts and coverages then you will have learned a lot. But there’s so much more here than that. I’d recommend this book to every fan.